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"Push" Comes To Shove

Centuries from now -- when all of us are dead and gone and all we are is dust in the wind -- archaeologists, scientists and the just plain curious will pick through the remnants of our bones as they ponder just what kind of a society we were.

"Was this an enlightened people?" they might ask as they hold our skulls aloft and rummage through the burnt-out, decaying husks of our sport-utility vehicles. "Noble in reason, infinite in faculty, in action like an angel, in apprehension like a god? Or were they just a bunch of slack-jawed, sunken-eyed savages?"

I don't pretend to know the answers to those questions. But I do know one thing -- if future generations happen to stumble across the premiere episode of Push), which debuted on ABC Monday night, then posterity will conclude that sometime in early 1998, TV networks officially gave up trying to entertain the masses and just started broadcasting whatever crap they could find to fill up the time between beer and deodorant ads.

In case you missed Push -- and I'm certainly not implying that was a bad decision on your part -- it's the story of a bunch of attractive college kids who also happen to be America's best hopes for medals at the 27th Olympiad, two years hence. Push is the story of these young people -- of their hopes and dreams and deepest fears.

And since Push is trying to attract viewers in the valuable 18-34-year-old demographic, it tells its tale in the tawdry, soap opera-like manner that's so in vogue with the kids nowadays. Think of Push as sort of ABC's version of Melrose Place, only with the musky scent of a boy's high school locker room.

And if the first episode is anything to go by, a boy's high school locker room is apparently where Push's writers probably came up with the script.

I'm not the kind of person who runs around automatically proclaiming that the latest bit of brainless tripe that Hollywood chunders on to my TV screen is The Worst Show Ever. Every time a stillborn series premiers, I don't start making idle threats about driving railroad spikes through my optic nerve to spare me the agony of watching one more odious second.

Push is certainly bad in every manner that a creative endeavor can be bad. But I've seen worse before, and I'll see worse long after the cast members of Push are reduced to making infomercials or self-help videos or really kinky pornos.

Still, Push could well be the worst bit of television to come down the pike in the '97-'98 TV season. And keep in mind, this was a season where Tony Danza, Tim Curry and Jenny McCarthy were all given license to kill.

Just how bad is Push?

  • So bad that when one of the characters collapses in the throes of a drug-induced seizure, his grief-stricken-but-overbearing father actually begins pounding on the boy's chest, screeching, "Don't you quit on me! Don't you quit on me!"

  • So bad that the fictional university's literature professor -- apparently the only professor on campus -- sports a foppish British accent, thus keeping strict adherence with a long-time Hollywood ordinance: TV college professors must, at all times, be British under penalty of law.

  • So bad that the aforementioned Limey prof offers this scintillating advice to his young charges: "You want to learn how to write? Go out and get drunk. Go out and have sex 'til you can't bloody walk straight."

    Which is a pretty good idea, come to think of it. I'll be right back.

But I think the ultimate measure of Push's awfulness is simply this -- I watched the entire hour-long premiere, taking copious notes, and I still can't pick any of the characters out of a police lineup. The cast of Push is pretty much a collection of interchangeable beautiful people who are just there to look attractive for an hour or so every week. So what does it matter if the vast North American viewing audience can't tell the difference between Pete Prettyboy or Sam Squarejaw? Just sit back and enjoy the view.

Near as I can figure, though, here's a basic rundown of the characters. There's the chubby, slutty gymnast; the thin, slutty gymnast; the unshaven gym coach who used to sleep with one of the slutty gymnasts; the male gymnast who's thinking of joining the ministry and, therefore, has yet to show any proclivity toward sluttiness; the troubled track star who's popping pills; the black track star who's... um... black; the spiky-haired girl swimmer who's certainly trying her level best to be a slut; and a spiky-haired boy swimmer who may or may not have contracted AIDS after a one-night stand with a slut who's not part of the regular cast.

Me, I'm rooting for the virus.

With U.S. Olympic hopefuls like these, what can one say but, "Please rise for the playing of the German national anthem?"

Push ostensibly deals with athletics. I say "ostensibly" because many of the scenes depicting actual competition are filmed in long shots and poor lighting so the audience won't be able to tell that's a stunt double on the parallel bars and not one of the nameless, faceless actors. That's probably because on the few occasions that the actors were shot in close-ups, they appeared clumsy and graceless. The chubby, slutty gymnast's floor exercise, for example, looked more like some sort of interpretive dance at a Philip Glass concert than a routine that's going to wow them in Sydney come the year 2000.

But all the floor exercises and the wind sprints and the 400-meter individual medleys are just the whipped cream on the shit sundae that is Push. Because when you get right down to it, the show exists to bring us one compelling story line after another. Will the spiky-haired swimmer turn out to have AIDS? Will the troubled track star stop taking his performance-enhancing steroids? Will the British lit professor ever lose that ridiculous accent?

Oh, God, please no more tension. I'm having palpitations!

I admit a personal bias against Push. The exterior shots of the show were all filmed at my alma mater, the University of California at San Diego). And, oh man, the crazy memories!

That field) where the human blank of a track star was practicing? I played many a rec league softball game there. That oddly shaped library)? Can't tell you the number of hours I spent in there boning up for finals. That parking lot the two slutty gymnasts walked through? Boy, if I had a nickel for every unpaid parking ticket I accrued there. And that grove of eucalyptus trees... why, that's where a lovely young lady threw me over to date some jagged-chinned fratboy, even after I cooked her a lovely pasta dinner the night before. I mean, I spent hours in my kitchen slaving over that pasta and did I get any appreciation for it. Shit, no! She just opened up my chest cavity and ripped out my goddamn...

What? Huh? Oh yeah, Push...

I suppose any publicity is good publicity, even if the irony of a Division III school) that offers no athletic scholarships being passed off as the fictional cradle of Olympic hopefuls is almost too much for me to swallow. And I guess that I should be happy that my alma mater is finally getting some much deserved attention.

But I'm not. Because I worry that Push will have the absolute opposite effect on my beloved UCSD. Shows that bad carry a powerful stink, after all, and that stink has a way of latching on to anything within a five-mile radius... even if it's an up-and-coming university that was only used for exterior shots.

I worry that Push is creating a false impression about where I went to school. The casual viewer might watch Push and conclude that UCSD is crawling with slutty gymnasts, awash in spiky-haired swimmers and jammed to the breaking point with cliched British lit professors.

And that's simply wrong. For starters, most of my professors were just pinkos.

But most importantly, I worry that the pure awfulness of Push will reflect poorly on me. "There goes Michaels," people will mutter under their breaths. "He went to that school) where that really bad show was filmed. Not Harvard), where they filmed 'Good Will Hunting.' Oh no, Michaels' degree is virtually worthless."

And not to contradict the advice of that British lit professor, but even going out and getting drunk and having sex until I can't bloody walk won't take away the sting of that.


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